26 Aug 2011

Sarkozy arrives in New Caledonia amid tight security

2:04 pm on 26 August 2011

The French president Nicolas Sarkozy has arrived in New Caledonia on his first presidential visit to the Pacific.

Mr Sarkozy, who arrived after a brief stop-over in China, is accompanied by government ministers and sport personalities.

He is due to open the Pacific Games tomorrow and also meet the territory's political leaders.

His first official engagement involved addressing a crowd at a war memorial in central Noumea.

Security is very tight as Vinnie Wylie reports.

"There were at least two barricades before you could get to the front barricade - you couldn't get past that where Sarkozy and the dignitaries were on stage. I had to get patted down twice, there was a metal detector there was a check of my bag a couple of times. There were men in dark suits and sunglasses. There were quite a few of them milling around and walking through the crowds, checking that nothing untoward was happening, making sure there were no threats or no concerns for the president's speech."

Nicolas Sarkozy is later today due to engage with local politicians as the territory is to agree on a way forward once the Noumea Accord on greater autonomy expires.

The decolonisation process has this year come unstuck over the choice of flag, triggering the collapse of four collegial governments.

Security will also be on the agenda after a rise in crime this year amid widespread unease over the high cost of living.

Schools are closed and public servants have been given today off to mark the visit.